Monday, November 9, 2009

Music Monday: Favorite Cover Songs

Last week Jane Granville blogged about her favorite versions of the song "Hallelujah." I'm not really familiar with any versions of that song, so I couldn't contribute, but her post did get me thinking about cover songs in general. While I can enjoy a cover song that stays fairly close to the original version (if I liked the original in the first place), the covers I'm really drawn to are the ones with very unique interpretations of the original. Often this involves moving it to a very different music genre, changing the tempo, changing the instruments, and so on.

So I sat down and compiled a list of my Top 5 Favorite Cover Songs to share with you for Music Monday -- and boy, did I make some tough decisions. Although I officially limited my list to the top 5 -- in honor of High Fidelity -- since two of the songs are versions of the same song, I decided to throw in an Honorable Mention as well. Some of these covers are well-known, while others not so much, but each takes a very unique and cross-genre approach to the original.

I've included MP3 clips for each pair/group of songs. If you click the Play button you'll hear 30 second samples of the songs discussed, starting with the original version of the song. (Note: The playlist will continue looping until you press Pause.)

So, without further ado, my Top 5 favorite cover songs in no particular order:

All Along the Watchtower

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Version
Original Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: John Wesley Harding
Released: 1967
Genre: Folk Rock
Cover Artist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: Electric Ladyland
Released: 1968
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
Probably the most recognized rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," the Hendrix version is celebrated as one of the best rock songs of all time. Hendrix turned Dylan's acoustic folk song into a psychedelic rock version which displays Hendrix's pioneering use of the electronic guitar effects he would become legend for. Dylan described his reaction to Hendrix's version this way: "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day." (Read more at Wikipedia....)
The Dave Matthews Band Version
Cover Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Album: Recently
Released: 1994
Genre: Jazz Rock
"All Along the Watchtower" is a staple of Dave Matthews Band live concerts, and has been performed live by them more than 600 times. They've never released a studio version of the song. The DMB version maintains the original's chord structure, but is very different in style. The song starts out slow with just acoustic guitar and vocals, with the other band members joining the song at different points, gradually picking up the intensity and speed. The DMB version also features extended solos by different band members, including an incredible saxophone solo. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Smooth Criminal
Original Artist: Michael Jackson
Album: Bad
Released: 1987
Genre: Pop
Cover Artist: Alien Ant Farm
Album: ANThology
Released: 2001
Genre: Alternative Rock
Featuring heavy guitar riffs and a hard, driving beat, Alien Ant Farm's alt rock cover of Jackson's pop song soared up the music charts when it was released in 2001. The band had started off playing sections of the song during their gig warm-ups, but would often receive requests from audience members to play the entire song, inspiring them to release a full cover version. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

The Devil Went Down to Georgia Scunthorpe
Original Artist: Charlie Daniels Band
Album: Million Mile Reflections
Released: 1979
Genre: Country
Cover Artist: Toy Dolls
Album: One More Megabyte
Released: 1997
Genre: Punk Rock
Originally the story of a young fiddle player from Georgia who's challenged to a match by the devil, British punk band the Toy Dolls made Johnny a guitar player from Scunthorpe in their little-known cover of this country music classic. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Tainted Love
Original Artist: Gloria Jones
Released: 1964
Genre: Soul
Cover Artist: Soft Cell
Album: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Released: 1981
Genre: Synthpop
"The vocal-and-synth duo Soft Cell had become aware of the song through its status as a Northern Soul hit, and recorded a drastically different arrangement of "Tainted Love" in 1981. Produced by Mike Thorne, the Soft Cell track featured a slower tempo than Jones' version, and instrumentally relied on synthesizers and rhythm machines rather than the guitars, bass, drums and horns of the original." The Soft Cell rendition rapidly climbed the UK charts, but scaled the US charts the following year much more slowly. Eventually though, it reached #8 and spent 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. (Read more at Wikipedia....)

Honorable Mention: Sweet Dreams
Original Artist: Eurythmics
Album: Sweet Dreams
Released: 1983
Genre: New Wave
Cover Artist: Marilyn Manson
Album: Smells Like Children
Released: 1995
Genre: Industrial Metal
Marilyn Manson's slow, harsh industrial metal cover of the classic Eurythmics song helped lauched the band into the mainstream. Manson's version added the lyrics "I wanna use you and abuse you/I wanna know what's inside you," and "I'm gonna use you and abuse you/I'm gonna know what's inside you," to the original Eurythmics version. (Read more at Wikipedia....)


So what are your favorite cover songs? Do you prefer covers that stay close to the original version, or do you prefer covers that re-interpret the original in a unique way? How do you feel about any of the songs mentioned? If you love the original song, do you find it difficult to enjoy a cover that's very different?


Lynn Spencer said...

Lynn Spencer said...
Fun! I really like good covers because I enjoy seeing all the different ways you can play with a song.

I love the Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal, too. Other ones I like are: Eva Cassidy covering Sting's Fields of Gold and Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time, Social Distortion covering Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, Alex Parks covering Tears for Fears' Mad World (the Adam Lambert version from AI is good too)

Wendy said...

Off the top of my head:

Venus by Bananarama - originally recorded by Shocking Blue. I also like Hazy Shade Of Winter by The Bangles, originally recorded by Simon & Garfunkle.

And while this may not necessarily count - I prefer the hard-rockin' version of Revolution that The Beatles released as the B-side to the Hey Jude single, as opposed to the slower version that can be found on The White Album.

Katie Mack said...

Lynn - I love Social D's cover of Ring of Fire -- definitely in my Top 10. I'll have to look up the other ones you mentioned.

Wendy - I had no idea that Bananarama song was a cover! Great song. And I don't see why a cover by the original artist doesn't count. Personally, I vastly prefer Clapton's rock version of Layla to his acoustic version.